The Middle East in Bergen
After having for a generation been the primary focus of the University of Bergen's non-European research, the Middle East milieu in 2000 faced a number of new challenges. For years, political developments in our 'core area', the Sudan, had made it increasingly difficult to maintain the level of interchange with that country. Although close relations remain with the Sudan and Sudanese colleagues, interests have started to diversify inside Islamic Africa, and a new focus of interest in the Indian Ocean region has developed.
At the same time, winds of change was starting to blow over Norwegian universities. In 2000, these were still on the level of plans and proposals rather than finalized programs, and their net effect remained to be seen. The Middle East milieu however focused on the opportunities for greater flexibility and inter-departmental co-operation both in teaching and research. Having already pioneered such co-operation for a decade, it spent the year planning ahead for how to exploit these opportunities.
On the more local level, 2000 also marked the end of the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies' ten-year long residence at our house in Parkv. 22a. In 2002, we plan to move with several other non-European-oriented research centres into a shared locality, for increased practical and academic co-operation; until then the Middle East centre has a temporary location in the Arabic department's old locales.
History of the milieuThe early developments in Middle Eastern research in Bergen took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s, in which the role of the anthropological milieu around Professor Fredrik Barth and his work on Iran and the Sudan was fundamental. However, it soon transpired that several scholars had independently developed an interest in the Middle East, and in particular the Sudan. As this milieu grew, initiatives were made to co-ordinate and support these efforts. This came into fruition in the mid-late 1980s, in particular through the support and initiative of the late Director of the University, Magne Lerheim. It led to the establishment of two research Centres concerned with the area, the Centre for Development Studies in 1986 and the Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies in 1988. The tasks of these two are different; the CDS covers all of the developing world, although the University's preoccupation with the Middle East is felt also in the CDS; thus both its directors to date have been Sudan specialists. The CDS has been a project-oriented centre, which has sought finance from and to a large extent carried out projects for, external clients.
The Middle East Centre (SMI), which publishes this pamphlet, is on the other hand basically a service centre for the research milieu at the University. It aims to co-ordinate the research interest of the various individual Middle East-oriented scholars at the various departments in the faculties of Arts and Social Science, and develop an inter-departmental Middle East milieu from them. It shall also function as a 'face' for the research vis-à-vis the outside world, as well as a point of contact for this world to the Middle East scholars in Bergen. Thus, the Centre's own staff is minimal, a director and a part-time secretary, but it does provide space for guest professors as well as research fellows and associates from Bergen and abroad.
This biennial pamphlet is thus part of our work; it serves to present, not the research at the Centre in particular, but as complete a picture as we are able, of the research on the Middle East and Islam being carried out in Arts and Social sciences at the University of Bergen in the two years preceding.
Research areasMiddle Eastern studies in Bergen has traditionally been divided geographically in a 'southern tier', Islam in Africa; and in particular the Sudan; and a 'northern tier'; Turkey and the region IranCentral Asia.
Bergen's relations with the Sudan are of a special character, and require some extra comment. They derive from the early days of Middle Eastern studies in Bergen, when several of those who later became affiliated to Bergen not only did research in the Sudan, but also taught at the University of Khartoum, and in one instance, took his Ph.D. there. These relations with the Sudan go beyond the Arts and Social sciences, and include co-operation in the fields of Medicine, Dentistry and other faculties.
In later years, they have been strengthened through the provision of scholarships in Bergen for young Sudanese researchers; thus six Sudanese have finished their doctorates in Bergen, in the fields of Archaeology, Geography, History and Social Anthropology, and more are being prepared. In the early 1990s, the then director of the National Records Office at Khartoum had a secondary position as Professor in History at Bergen University. At any given time, there will be a number of Sudanese scholars at work in Bergen, at the CDS, the Middle East Centre, or at the various departments involved.
The particular nature of our relationship with the Sudan is thus not only that it has been broad in number or researchers and departments and research milieus involved; but also that it has been truly reciprocal. While the University has been able to channel scholarly resources to the Sudan, it has even more drawn from and been influenced by the research being done in the Sudan by Sudanese scholars. This influence can be seen in several of the research areas developed in Bergen over the years.
In spite of the political developments in the Sudan which has limited institutional links with the University of Khartoum, it is hard to envisage Bergen without a Sudan interest. Efforts has rather been spent on maintaining and developing existing personal and direct relations with Sudanese scholars, while reducing institutional and official links. The level of Sudan research carried out in Bergen can be seen in the documentation later in this yearbook.
The second regional focus has been especially dominant in the social sciences, in particular Anthropology, where Turkey was an important focus for its long-standing Migration project. However, there is currently increasing interest also among historians and other philological studies in Turkey, Caucasus and Central Asia, an interest that already has a strong basis among the philologists involved in studies on Russia and the former Soviet Union.
A third direction has also developed over the last few years, partly as an extension of our African interest, focusing on the Indian Ocean as a medium of cultural and economic co-operation, and studying the regions that border it, from East Africa to Southeast Asia. It thus studies both aspects of migration and trade and of intellectual links between the peoples of this vast region, linking to an alternative view of 'globalization'.
In addition to the University, Middle Eastern research in Bergen is also carried out at the private Chr. Michelsen's Institute. It has close co-operation with the University, and many of the Institute's younger scholars are also registered for a degree here. We have therefore included research information from Middle East scholars of the CMI, while we refer to the Institute's own publications for a complete survey of their activities.
This survey of research is based mostly on information submitted by individual scholars. There will necessarily be gaps, e.g., in the lists of publications. These gaps will, as far as we are able, be filled in later editions.
This 'yearbook', Middle Eastern Studies in Bergen, will from 2000 be published every two years (previous volumes were annual, but covered two years' activity).
Knut S. Vikør
The above text is the introduction to Middle Eastern Studies in Bergen, an bi-annual survey of research on the Middle East at the University. All the text of this pamphlet is available on this Web server. We are updating the sections on Staff and Hovudfag students to represent the current situation, while the sections on Publications and Degrees passes will accumulate the data of successive editions of the yearbook-pamphlet, from the first one in 1993. The other sections are identical to the pamphlet, barring corrections of errors.